Gay Brewer: Masters Champ With Loopy Swing

Gay Brewer played on the PGA Tour for a couple decades, but for a few, brief years in the mid-1960s he was among its top players not named Nicklaus, Palmer, Player or Casper. He won a major championship in that stretch. Throughout his career, he won with a "loopy" golf swing, and throughout his life with a funny sense of humor.

Full name: Gay Robert Brewer Jr.

Date of birth: March 19, 1932

Place of birth: Middletown, Ohio

Date and place of death: August 31, 2007 in Lexington, Kentucky

Brewer's Biggest Pro Wins

Brewer is credited with 10 victories on the PGA Tour:
  • 1961 Carling Open Invitational
  • 1961 Mobile Sertoma Open Invitational
  • 1961 West Palm Beach Open Invitational
  • 1963 Waco Turner Open
  • 1965 Greater Seattle Open Invitational
  • 1965 Hawaiian Open
  • 1966 Pensacola Open Invitational
  • 1967 Pensacola Open Invitational
  • 1967 Masters Tournament
  • 1972 Canadian Open
On the Champions Tour, he won once: Brewer also won several other pro tournaments, including the 1972 Taiheiyo Club Masters in its inaugural year (it's a tournament still played today on the Japan Tour).

Brewer won the 1967 Alcan Golfer of the Year tournament at St. Andrews, and the same tournament in 1968 at Royal Birkdale.

And in 1965, Brewer teamed with Butch Baird to win the PGA National Four-ball Championship.

1967 Masters Win and Other Majors

Gay Brewer won the 1967 Masters with an excellent final round that included a back-nine birdie charge — one year after losing the Masters in a playoff.

A second-round 68 jumped Brewer into a tie for second place. He slipped back to fourth after a 72 in the third round.

But in the final round, Brewer carded a 67 — the lowest round of the day — and reeled off three consecutive birdies on holes 13 through 15. He wound up winning by a stroke over Bobby Nichols.

"I still recall the day when I became known not just as Gay Brewer, but 'Gay Brewer, winner of the 1967 Masters.' The reality of the title – the biggest thrill I've had in golf – is something that can never be taken away."
Jack Nicklaus had been going for a third consecutive Green Jacket, but missed the cut. A year earlier at the 1966 Masters, Nicklaus won it in a playoff after Brewer blew a one-stroke lead on the final hole.

Brewer three-putted the 72nd green, including missing a 5-footer that would have won him the tournament. Instead, Nicklaus, Brewer and Tommy Jacobs came back the next day for an 18-hole playoff. Nicklaus shot 70, Jacobs 72 and Brewer, perhaps still reeling from his 72nd-hole mishap the day before, carded a 78.

After Brewer won it in 1967, Nicklaus said, "For Gay to come back the next year and win a Green Jacket was fitting for such a tremendous person and a darn good player. Around that time, Gay was as good as there was."

Brewer's playoff loss in 1966 and Masters win in 1967 were two of 12 career Top 10s in majors for him. He first played in a major in the 1956 U.S. Open, and last in the 2001 Masters (although he didn't play any majors other than The Masters beyond 1977). He finished solo fifth in the 1962 U.S. Open and tied fifth in the 1964 U.S. Open, his only other Top 5s.

Gay Brewer's Golf Swing

Peter Alliss once wrote that Gay Brewer had "one of the strangest swings that golf has seen." Brewer himself referred to the "loop" in his swing, and to his "figure of eight" action after drawing the club back way inside.

Alliss described Brewer's swing by writing that "... the club is taken out and up, the right elbow flying free, and then is looped round before coming down to the ball, at which point everything has become orthodox. There is perhaps a difference of as much as a couple of feet between the upswing and downswing planes."

This video is from a Shell's Wonderful World of Golf match between Brewer and Billy Casper; Brewer is on the right in a comparison of their swings:

(You can watch the full episode below.)

That "loopy" swing led to an instructional book published under Brewer's name in 1968 entitled, Gay Brewer Shows You How to Score Better Than You Swing (affiliate link).

His swing nearly cost him a spot on his high school golf team — until the coach looked at the results instead of the swing itself. Brewer explained: "After he saw the loop in my swing, he didn't think I was good enough. He took me over to a par-3 and I proceeded to hit three balls all within six feet of the hole. He told me I was on the team."

More About Gay Brewer

Brewer was born in Ohio but grew up in Lexington, Ky., and was always associated with Kentucky. The loop in his swing was the result of a broken elbow at age 7. At age 10 Brewer started working as a caddie, and then started playing at Picadome Golf Course in Lexington, where he honed his game as a junior in city tournaments, and later amateur matches and collegiate tournaments.

Brewer won the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship in 1949, and played collegiately at the University of Kentucky. He turned pro and joined the PGA Tour in 1956.

His first brush with victory was at the 1959 West Palm Beach Open, where he got into a playoff with Arnold Palmer and Pete Cooper. Palmer won it on the fourth extra hole. It took another two years after that (five since joining the tour), but when Brewer broke through for his first win in 1961 he won another two tournaments that year, too.

His first brush with greatness was in the 1966 Masters that he should have won, but his putting — he periodically battled the yips when his confidence was down — cost him the win on the 72nd hole, then Brewer lost it in the playoff.

That wasn't his only 18-hole playoff loss in 1966, either. He also fell in the 18-hole Tournament of Champions playoff to Arnold Palmer.

Brewer's Masters win in 1967 couldn't have been a surprise, though: He went into the tournament hot. Two weeks earlier, in his Pensacola Open victory, Brewer finished at 262. That was 26-under-par, the second-best score in relation to par in PGA Tour history to that point. In that same event, Brewer became the first golfer in PGA Tour history to score 125 in back-to-back rounds.

At the end of the year, Brewer beat Billy Casper in playoff to win the high-dollar international event called the Alcan Golfer of the Year, played on The Old Course at St. Andrews.

Brewer went five years without winning on the PGA Tour after that Masters victory — he got into a four-way playoff at the 1969 IVB-Philadelphia Golf Classic, but lost to Dave Hill — but had several international wins during that time period. At the 1969 Danny Thomas-Diplomat Classic, he blew a six-shot lead in Round 4, tying the tour's all-time record for largest final-round lead lost.

His final PGA Tour win was another big one, the Canadian Open in 1972. (Earlier in the year, the night before the 1972 Masters started, Brewer was hospitalized with bleeding ulcers. According to an old PGA Tour media guide, the incident "nearly took his life." He was given the Ben Hogan Award for perseverance in 1974.) In 1974, he lost another four-way playoff at the 1974 PGA Tour American Golf Classic. And he finished one stroke out of a playoff in the 1975 Canadian Open.

Brewer played for Team USA in the 1967 Ryder Cup (3-2-0) and 1973 Ryder Cup (2-1-1), going 5-3-1.

He finished in the Top 60 on the PGA Tour money list (then the cutoff to avoid Monday qualifiers) every year but one from 1957 through 1973. That included three Top 10 finishes: seventh in 1961, fifth in 1966 and ninth in 1967.

Aside from his annual past-champion Masters appearances through 2001, Brewer last entered a PGA Tour tournament in 1986. In all, he made 636 PGA Tour starts, with 10 wins, 21 seconds, six thirds, 110 Top 10s.

Brewer played for years on the Champions Tour, too, winning one official-money event. But he also teamed with Billy Casper to win the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf in 1984 when it was an unofficial money tournament. In all, on the senior tour, Brewer made 427 starts with one win, eight seconds, 10 thirds, 72 Top 10s. His last appearance on the Champions Tour was in 2000.

In June of 2007, just a couple months before his death as a result of lung cancer, Brewer's beloved Picadome Golf Course in Lexington, Ky., was renamed The Gay Brewer Jr. Course at Picadome. He is a member of the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame.

Upon his death in August 2007, nearly every golfer who was quoted remembering Brewer mentioned his fun-loving persona and storytelling. "He was always so likable and a very jovial type of guy," Gil Morgan said. Even Tiger Woods, who got to know Brewer through the Champions Dinner at The Masters, told The Associated Press, "Man, he told more stories and was just incredible to be around."

"He always had a joke," Jack Nicklaus said. "Gay was just a fun-loving guy and you always looked forward to being around him."

In addition to the instructional book mentioned during the swing section, Brewer also authored Gay Brewer's Golf Guidebook: Basic Form and Playing Techniques for Young People (affiliate link). He also made a golf-instruction record album titled How To Give Your Golf Game The Master's Touch.

Brewer also featured in two episodes of Shell's Wonderful World of Golf: in 1968, vs. Billy Casper; and in 1969, a 3-way match with Arnold Palmer and Chi Chi Rodriguez. Both those matches can be watched here:

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